Lessons in the Fermented Suint Method of Fleece Cleaning

A tiny sprout takes hold in wet wool

My first attempt at the fermented suint method (FSM) of fleece cleaning was not a complete failure, I suppose. Though the FSM did not exactly render my fleece clean or usable, I can’t say to what extent this is due to my execution of the FSM, the FSM method itself and/or the condition of the fleece when I began.

Given San Francisco’s unusually cold temperatures during some of this period, I was surprised that fermentation began at all, but it did. My suint bath showed the telltale orange bubbles that other blogs said to look for:

2014-04-13 09.49.47

Surprise! A seed sprouted in the wet fleece, a rather damning condemnation of my wool prep:

2014-04-13 09.49.30

The stench was incredible. I had to walk away immediately after I removed the top of the tub, as I thought I was going to dry heave. I’d read online that it would stink but I was unprepared for how much. Other posts said “If you’re used to a barn then you’re used to these smells, anyway!” I respectfully disagree.

I am frequently on ranches, healthy ranches that smell but in the good barnyard way and not the feedlot way, and I do not exaggerate when I say I was nauseated while removing the fleece from the bath. My entire backyard smelled. I could smell it in our house with our sliding doors and windows closed. I could not open the sliding doors to the backyard or the entire downstairs filled with the smell and ascended the stairs right on up into the house. I fully expected my next door neighbors to have words with me.

When removing the fleece from the bath, it looked noticeably cleaner but not as clean as I hoped. My fleece was absolutely filthy beforehand and, though I picked at it for hours, I think it probably needed a great deal more wool prep –which I will soon learn at wool handling school!

I decided to run a little experiment since I suspected, from the look of my fleece coming out of the bath, that it would not become more than some nice wool compost. I understand why others advised using mesh laundry bags to contain the fleece while in the suint bath: I could not get the fleece out in one piece without it. Since it broke into three pieces, I designed my experiment thus:

  • 1/3 was set out to dry directly out of the suint bath, with no rinse or other treatment aside from squeezing excess water out;
  • 1/3 was rinsed and set out to dry;
  • 1/3 was rinsed, washed with a little Palmolive, rinsed again and set out to dry.

The fleece washed with soap was cleanest (though not a great deal cleaner than the fleece that was rinsed), but none of them were clean enough to comb or card. Smell wise, none of them stank – yes, even the horrific post-bath stench completely disappeared from the fleece that was not rinsed. Texture wise, each fleece cluster dried into a tough sort of stiffened chunk. The fleece did not appear to have felted but it certainly came together as if it did at least a little bit, and this was true of all fleeces regardless of post-bath treatment.

In a demoralizing but very eco-friendly event, flies happily landed upon and burrowed into the fleece that was not washed or rinsed. Can a fleece alone get fly strike?! Many birds also enjoyed visiting each fleece and picking what I suspect were bugs and seeds out of it. That said, the fleece is in the compost bin, sad but true.

I do not think I will wash another batch of fleece in the suint bath. I think the fleece (which has a big case of the come-aparts anyway) may just be too filthy and vegetable-matter laden to continue putting this much effort (and water) into cleaning it. I admit that, having finished the first batch, my first thought was “This is something best left to wool mills!”

4 Responses to “Lessons in the Fermented Suint Method of Fleece Cleaning”

  1. Jeannie

    So do you think your method failed because you used primarily tap water?? Lol I’m collecting a ton of recent rainwater and have plenty to do this method, but I’m nervous about the cold weather!

    • anysteph

      According to my vastly more experienced friends, everything worked as it was supposed to, in that if I hadn’t had enough rain water, there wouldn’t have been yeast in it to get fermentation going. The orange stuff on the water and the stench were exactly what they expected. My fleece was definitely cleaner, just not in a very… usable way? 🙂

  2. Holly madison

    Hi, this is Holly from Blue Barn Fiber. Thank you so much for posting your progress about your FSM attempt. I really admire how you try so hard to conserve water, and really want to encourage you to try this method again if you plan to wash more raw fleece! Did you start with a super suint rich fleece, like Merino or Corriedale? I would recommend trying distilled water or softened water if you can’t collect rain water instead of tap water, as it should work a lot better for you. I recently made a blog post all about the science of this method here : http://bluebarnfiber.blogspot.com/2017/07/suint-fermentation.html And hope it might be helpful.

    • anysteph

      Hi Holly – Thanks so much for reading and dropping some knowledge! I was such a beginner at the time, I’m not sure how suint-heavy my fleece was, but it was really short (1.5″ staple at best) Targhee, not holding together too well. I’ll try the distilled water, too!


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